BC Ferries says that without $308 million in Safe Restart funding provided by the provincial and federal governments, the transportation operator would have incurred losses of $165 million in fiscal year 2021.
Thanks to that funding, BC Ferries posted net earnings of $21 million, down from $28.8 million in fiscal year 2020. BC Ferries has dedicated $280 million in Safe Restart funds to cover two years of expected losses due to the pandemic.
At the BC Ferries annual general meeting on August 19, vice-president and chief financial officer Jill Sharland shared that revenues from customer tariffs were down from $613.3 million in fiscal 2020 to $424.1 million in fiscal 2021.
Those losses came from a steep decline in traffic throughout the pandemic. Passenger traffic was down by 40 per cent and vehicle traffic decreased by 24 per cent compared to fiscal year 2020. Vehicle traffic was buoyed by essential ferry traffic, which has continued to increase over previous years. The decrease in overall traffic is a record low for BC Ferries.
The unprecedented drop-off in traffic and revenues forced BC Ferries to defer capital projects and divert resources to operational costs. The company deferred $116 million in capital investments, reducing spending on vessels to $95.2 million, down from $186.5 million the year before. BC Ferries also reduced spending on terminal buildings to $8.7 million from $26.5 million and reduced information technology expenditures to $18.1 down from $26 million.
Operating expenses decreased slightly due to reduced sailings on major routes. Sharland said that 84 per cent of service reductions came on major routes.
After a tough year, BC Ferries president and CEO Mark Collins said the company is now operating close 2019 levels but is struggling with a staff shortage due to a global shortage in qualified mariners.
Staffing issues were blamed for the cancellation of two sailings between Tsawassen and Swartz Bay in early August and caused a two hour-and-a-half-hour delay in sailings between Tsawassen and Duke Point.
BC Ferriesmaintains staffing pools to ensure that they have more than enough people to keep ferries running, but said the staffing pool for qualified deck officers is about 25 employees short and the staffing pool for engineers is 35 employees short.
Collins said Canada isn’t training as many professional mariners as it used to. He added that competition for professional mariners is intense as the global shipping industry and other ferry companies around the world are actively looking for staff.
BC Ferries is aiming to recruit more than 100 new employees to combat staffing shortages.
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